Bass of the Week: MechBass

MechBass - Complete System

Science just got a whole lot cooler thanks to Victoria University of Wellington engineering student James McVay. As part of Bachelor’s degree, McVay designed and built the MechBass, a 4-string robotic bass guitar. And yes, it rocks.

Built with lasercut and 3D-printed parts, MechBass has four separate units for each string controlled with PCBs. The strings are plucked with picks mounted on spinning wheel that can pick about 50 notes per second. The volume of each note is adjustable thanks to a servo that adjusts how hard the pick strikes the string. Another servo with wool felt is used for dampening the strings.

Notes are fed to the MechBass via MIDI as well as an audio programming language called ChucK, which is used when a piece hasn’t been manually written for MechBass. An interesting note is that the pickups are optical. McVay took this route due to the high amount of electromagnetic noise from all the actuators in the machine.

The MechBass is an incredible instrument, but don’t worry about it taking your job anytime soon. “MechBass possesses its own characteristic sound that is similar to that of the real bass guitar, but not identical,” McVay writes. “As it was never intended for MechBass to replicate the sound of a real bass guitar but instead provide an acoustic complementation to electronic music, the sound features investigated demonstrate a perfectly acceptable result.”

MechBass Photo Gallery:

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Share your thoughts

  1. I’ve been trying to learn this bassline for a while, and now a machine can play it….

  2. vayanse a la verga con sus pinches mecanimamadas! , un bajista organico , con mente y sentimientos es irremplazable.

  3. sorry machine butt you can slide or do harmed it!

  4. This seems like it could easily be modified to have a fretboard for each string, which would make it sound more realistic.

  5. funny shit , but nothing to be taken seriously , I can see the future now , robots making music. not good for me.

  6. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

  7. Amazing bit of engineering.

  8. takes four rows of strings, with like five picks on each in order to play a song, plus a complex program to do it…its way cool and definitely futuristic and whatnot but it seems like a lot of effort to play a song I can do with one pick, and no program (or two fingers).

  9. Go home machine, you’re drunk.

  10. That’s the coolest thing I ever saw and heard! for a machine.

  11. I heard they were working on a jazz version of this machine but can’t get it to play the song twice the same way.

  12. play a Victor Wooten solo and I will be further impressed.

  13. Dude, ya just freaked me OUT!

  14. I wonder what it sounds like with flatwounds. :D Very cool technology. I don’t feel threatened as a bass player. Just a very cool project!

  15. I m a mechanical enginnering student and a bassist :D this thing amused me..but I prefer my fingers too :)

  16. Can’t lie, this is bad ass.